Polit­i­cal Thought In Islam

Muham­mad Iqbal


Polit­i­cal Thought in Islam[1], Lahore : Bazm-i-Iqbal (“The Iqbal Soci­ety”), 1989. Com­piled by Asif Iqbal

Pre-Islam­ic Ara­bia was divid­ed into tribes, con­tin­u­al­ly at war with one anoth­er. Each tribe had its own chief, its own god and its own poet, whose trib­al patri­o­tism man­i­fest­ed itself chiefly in the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of the virtues of his own tribe. Though these prim­i­tive social groups recog­nised, to a cer­tain extant, their kin­ship with one anoth­er, yet it was main­ly the author­i­ty of Muham­mad and the cos­mopoli­tan char­ac­ter of his teach­ing which shat­tered the aris­to­crat­ic ideals of indi­vid­ual tribes, and weld­ed the dwellers of tents into one com­mon ever-expand­ing nationality.

For our pur­pose, how­ev­er, it is nec­es­sary to notice, at the out­set, the fea­tures of the Ara­bi­an sys­tem of trib­al suc­ces­sion, and the pro­ce­dure fol­lowed by the mem­bers of the tribe on the death of their chief.

When the Chief or Shaikh of an Arab tribe died all the elders of the tribe met togeth­er and sit­ting in a cir­cle dis­cussed the mat­ter of suc­ces­sion. Any mem­ber of the tribe could hold the chief­tain­ship if he were unan­i­mous­ly elect­ed by the elders and heads of great fam­i­lies. The idea of hered­i­tary monar­chy, as Von Kre­mer has point­ed out,[3] was quite for­eign to the Arab mind, though the prin­ci­ple of senior­i­ty which, since Ahmad I, has received legal recog­ni­tion in the con­sti­tu­tion of Mod­ern Turkey, did cer­tain­ly influ­ence the elec­tion. When the tribe was equal­ly divid­ed between two lead­ers, the rival sec­tion sep­a­rat­ed from each oth­er until one of the can­di­dates relin­quished his claims ; oth­er­wise the sword was appealed to. The Chief thus elect­ed could be dis­posed by the tribe if the con­duct neces­si­tat­ed disposition.

With the expan­sion of the Arab con­quest, and the con­se­quent enlarge­ment of men­tal out­look, this prim­i­tive cus­tom grad­u­al­ly devel­oped into a Polit­i­cal The­o­ry care­ful­ly con­struct­ed, as we shall see, by the con­sti­tu­tion­al lawyers of Islam through reflec­tive crit­i­cism on the rev­e­la­tions of the polit­i­cal experience.

True this cus­tom, the Prophet of Ara­bia left no instruc­tion with regard to the mat­ter of suc­ces­sion. There is a tra­di­tion that the old Amir, son of Tufail, came to the Prophet and said, If I embrace Islam what would my rank be ? Wilt thou give me the com­mand after thee?” It does not belong to me,” said the Prophet, to dis­pose of the com­mand after me.”

Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s father-in-law and one of his chief com­pan­ions there­fore, in con­se­quence of the dan­ger of inter­nal dis­rup­tion, was rather hur­ried­ly and irreg­u­lar­ly elect­ed. He then rose and addressed the peo­ple thus :

O peo­ple ! Now I am ruler over you, albeit not the best amongst you. If I do well, sup­port me ; if ill, then set me right. Fol­low the true where­in is faith­ful­ness, eschew the false where­in is treach­ery. The weak­er amongst you shall be as the stronger with me, until that I shall have redressed his wrong ; and the stronger shall be as the weak­er until, if the Lord will, I shall have tak­en from him that which he hath wrest­ed. Leave not off to fight in the way of the Lord ; whoso­ev­er leaveth off, him ver­i­ly shall the Lord abase. Obey me as I obey the Lord and his Prophet, where­in I dis­obey, obey me not.

Omar, how­ev­er, after­wards held that the hur­ried elec­tion of Abu Bakr, though very hap­py in its con­se­quences and jus­ti­fied by the need of the time, should not form a prece­dent in Islam ; for as he is report­ed to have said (Dozy, I, p. 121), an elec­tion which is only a par­tial expres­sion of the peo­ple’s will is null and void.”

It was, there­fore, ear­ly under­stood that the Polit­i­cal Sov­er­eign­ty de fac­to resides in the peo­ple ; and that the elec­torate, by their free act of unan­i­mous choice, embody it in a deter­mi­nate per­son­al­i­ty in which the col­lec­tive will is, so as the speak, indi­vid­u­alised, with­out invest­ing this con­crete seat of pow­er with any priv­i­lege in the eye of the law except legal con­trol over the indi­vid­ual wills of which it is an expres­sion. The idea of uni­ver­sal agree­ment is in fact the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of Mus­lim con­sti­tu­tion­al the­o­ry. What the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty con­sid­ers good,” says the Prophet, God also con­sid­ers good.” It is prob­a­bly on the author­i­ty of this say­ing of the Prophet that al-Ashari devel­oped his polit­i­cal dog­ma ? That error is impos­si­ble in the unit­ed dec­la­ra­tions of the whole com­mu­ni­ty.” After the death of Abu Bakr, Omar, who act­ed as Chief Judge dur­ing his pre­de­ces­sor’s Caliphate, was uni­ver­sal­ly elect­ed by the people.

In 644 A.D., he was mor­tal­ly wound­ed by a Per­sian slave, and com­mit­ted his trust, before he died, to sev­en elec­tors ? one of them being his own son ? to nom­i­nate his suc­ces­sor, with the con­di­tion that their choice must be unan­i­mous, and that none of them must stand as a can­di­date for the Caliphate.

It will be seen from Omar’s exclu­sion of his own son from the can­di­da­ture, how remote was the idea of hered­i­tary monar­chy from the Ara­bi­an polit­i­cal consciousness.

The choice of this coun­cil, how­ev­er fell upon one of the coun­cilors, Uth­man, who was con­se­quent­ly nom­i­nat­ed and the nom­i­na­tion after­wards con­firmed by the peo­ple. The Caliphate of Uth­man is real­ly the source of the three great reli­gio-polit­i­cal par­ties with their respec­tive polit­i­cal the­o­ries which each par­ty, find­ing itself in pow­er, attempt­ed to realise in one or oth­er of the provinces of the Arab Empire.

Before, how­ev­er, I pro­ceed to describe these the­o­ries, I want to draw atten­tion to the fol­low­ing two points :

(1) That the Mus­lim Com­mon­wealth is based on the absolute equal­i­ty of all Mus­lims in the eyes of the law. There is no priv­i­leged class, no priest­hood, no caste sys­tem. In his lat­er days the Prophet once ascend­ed the pul­pit and said to the peo­ple : Mus­lims ! if I have struck any­one of you, here is my back that he may strike me. If any­one has been wronged by me, let him return injury for injury. If I have tak­en any­body’s goods, all that I have is at his dis­pos­al.” A man arose and claimed a debt of three dirhams (about three shillings). I would much rather,” said the Prophet, have the shame in this world than in the next.” And he paid him on the spot.

The Law of Islam does not rec­og­nize the appar­ent­ly nat­ur­al dif­fer­ences of race, nor the his­tor­i­cal dif­fer­ences of nation­al­i­ty. The polit­i­cal ide­al of Islam con­sists in the cre­ation of a peo­ple born of a free fusion of all races and nation­al­i­ties. Nation­al­i­ty with Islam is not the high­est lim­it of polit­i­cal devel­op­ment ; for the gen­er­al prin­ci­ple of the law of Islam rest on human nature, and not on the pecu­liar­i­ties of a par­tic­u­lar peo­ple. The inner cohe­sion of such a nation would con­sist not in eth­nic or geo­graph­ic uni­ty, nor in the uni­ty of lan­guage or social tra­di­tion, but in the uni­ty of the reli­gious and polit­i­cal ide­al ; or, in the psy­cho­log­i­cal fact of like-mind­ed­ness” as St. Paul would say.[4] The mem­ber­ship of this nation, con­se­quent­ly, would not be deter­mined by birth, mar­riage, domi­cile, or nat­u­ral­i­sa­tion. It would be deter­mined by a pub­lic dec­la­ra­tion of like-mind­ed­ness” and would ter­mi­nate when the indi­vid­ual has ceased to be like-mind­ed with others.

The ide­al ter­ri­to­ry for such a nation would be the whole earth. The Arabs, like the Greek and the Romans, endeav­oured to cre­ate such a nation or a world-state by con­quest, but failed to actu­alise this ide­al. The real­i­sa­tion of this ide­al, how­ev­er, is not impos­si­ble ; for the ide­al nation does already in germ. The life of mod­ern polit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties find expres­sion, to a great extent, in com­mon insti­tu­tions, Law and Gov­ern­ment ; and the var­i­ous soci­o­log­i­cal cir­cles, so to speak, are con­tin­u­al­ly expand­ing to touch one another.

Fur­ther, it is not incom­pat­i­ble with the sov­er­eign­ty of indi­vid­ual States, since its struc­ture will be deter­mined not by phys­i­cal force, but by the spir­i­tu­al force of a com­mon ideal.

(2) That accord­ing to the law of Islam there is no dis­tinc­tion between the Church and the State. The State with us is not a com­bi­na­tion of reli­gious and sec­u­lar author­i­ty, but it is a uni­ty in which no such dis­tinc­tion exists. The Caliph is not nec­es­sar­i­ly the high-priest of Islam ; he is not the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of God on earth. He is fal­li­ble like oth­er men and is sub­ject like every Mus­lim to the imper­son­al author­i­ty of the same law. The Prophet him­self is regard­ed as absolute­ly infal­li­ble by many Muhammadan[5] the­olo­gians (e.g., Abu Ishaq, Tabari).

In fact the idea of per­son­al author­i­ty is quite con­trary to the spir­it of Islam. The Prophet of Ara­bia suc­ceed­ed in com­mand­ing the absolute sub­mis­sion of an entire peo­ple ; yet no man has depre­ci­at­ed his own author­i­ty more than he. I am, ” he says, a man like you ; like you my for­give­ness also depends on the mer­cy of God.”

Once in a moment of spir­i­tu­al exal­ta­tion, he is report­ed to have said to one of his com­pan­ions, Go and tell the peo­ple ? he who says ? there is only one God ? will enter par­adise’,” stu­dious­ly omit­ted the sec­ond half of the Mus­lim creed : and Muham­mad is His prophet.”

The eth­i­cal impor­tance of this atti­tude is great. The whole sys­tem of Islam­ic ethics is based on the idea of indi­vid­u­al­i­ty ; any­thing which tends to repress the healthy devel­op­ment of indi­vid­u­al­i­ty is quite incon­sis­tent with the spir­it of Islam­ic law and ethics. A Mus­lim is free to do any­thing he likes, pro­vid­ed he does not vio­late the law. The gen­er­al prin­ci­ples of this law are believed to have been revealed ; the details, in order to cov­er the rel­a­tive­ly sec­u­lar cas­es, are left to the inter­pre­ta­tion of the pro­fes­sion­al lawyers.

It is, there­fore, true to say that the entire fab­ric of Islam­ic law, actu­al­ly admin­is­tered, is real­ly judge-made law, so that the lawyer per­forms the leg­isla­tive func­tion in the Mus­lim con­sti­tu­tion. If, how­ev­er, an absolute­ly new case aris­es which is not pro­vid­ed for in the law of Islam, the will of the whole Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty becomes a fur­ther source of law. But I do not know whether a gen­er­al coun­cil of the whole Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty was ever held for this purpose.

I shall now describe the three great polit­i­cal the­o­ries to which I have allud­ed above. I shall first take up the SUNNI VIEW.

The Sun­ni View of The Caliphate 

Dur­ing the days of the ear­ly Caliphate things were extreme­ly sim­ple. The Caliphs were like pri­vate indi­vid­u­als, some­times doing the work of an ordi­nary con­sta­ble. In obe­di­ence to the Qur’an­ic verse ? and con­sult them in all matters”[6] ? they always con­sult­ed the more influ­en­tial com­pan­ions of the Prophet in judi­cial and exec­u­tive mat­ters, but no for­mal min­is­ters exist­ed to assist the Caliph in his admin­is­tra­tive work.

It was not until the time of the House of Abbas that the Caliphate became the sub­ject of sci­en­tif­ic treat­ment. In my descrip­tion of the Sun­ni view, I shall main­ly fol­low al-Mawardy ? the ear­li­est Mus­lim con­sti­tu­tion­al lawyer who flour­ished dur­ing the reign of the Abbasi Caliph al-Qadir.

Al-Mawardy divides the whole Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty into two class­es : (a) the elec­tors, (b) the can­di­dates for election.

The qual­i­fi­ca­tions absolute­ly nec­es­sary for a can­di­date are thus enu­mer­at­ed by him :

1) Spot­less character.

(2) Free­dom from phys­i­cal and men­tal infir­mi­ty. The pre­de­ces­sor of the present Sul­tan of Turkey was deposed under this condition.

(3) Nec­es­sary legal and the­o­log­i­cal knowl­edge in order to be able to decide var­i­ous cas­es. This is true in the­o­ry ; in prac­tice the pow­er of the Caliph, espe­cial­ly in lat­er times, was divided.

(4) Insight nec­es­sary for a ruler.

(5) Rela­tion­ship with the fam­i­ly of Quraysh. This qual­i­fi­ca­tion is NOT regard­ed as indis­pens­able by mod­ern Sun­ni lawyers on the ground that the Prophet nev­er nom­i­nat­ed any per­son as his successor.

(6) Full Age (al-Ghaz­a­li). It was on this ground that the Chief Judge refused to elect al-Muqtadir.

(7) Male Sex (al-Baidawi). This is denied by the Khawar­ij who hold that a woman can also be elect­ed as Caliph.

If the can­di­date sat­is­fies these con­di­tions, the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of all influ­en­tial fam­i­lies, doc­tors of law, high offi­cials of the State, and com­man­ders of the Army meet togeth­er and nom­i­nate him to the Caliphate. The whole assem­bly them pro­ceeds to the mosque where the nom­i­na­tion is duly con­firmed by the peo­ple. In dis­tant places rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the elect­ed Caliph are per­mit­ted to receive homage on behalf of the Caliph. In the mat­ter of elec­tion the peo­ple of the cap­i­tal, how­ev­er, have no prece­dence over oth­er peo­ple ? though, in prac­tice, they have a cer­tain amount of prece­dence, since they are nat­u­ral­ly the first to hear of the Caliph’s death.

After the elec­tion, the Caliph usu­al­ly makes a speech promis­ing to rule accord­ing to the law of Islam. Most of these speech­es are pre­served. It will be seen that the prin­ci­ples of rep­re­sen­ta­tion is, to a cer­tain extent, per­mit­ted in prac­ti­cal pol­i­tics ; in the law of prop­er­ty, how­ev­er, it is express­ly denied. For instance, if B’ dies in the life­time of his father A’ and his broth­er C’, leav­ing issues, the whole prop­er­ty of A’ goes to C’. The chil­dren of B’ have no claim ; they can­not rep­re­sent their father, or stand in his shoes.”

From a legal stand­point, the Caliph does not occu­py any priv­i­leged posi­tion. In the­o­ry, he is like oth­er mem­bers of the Com­mon­wealth. He can be direct­ly sued in any ordi­nary law court. The sec­ond Caliph was once accused of appro­pri­at­ing a larg­er share in the spoils of war, and he had to clear his con­duct before the peo­ple by pro­duc­tion of evi­dence accord­ing to the law of Islam.

In his judi­cial capac­i­ty he is open to the crit­i­cism of every Mus­lim. Omar I was severe­ly rep­ri­mand­ed by an old woman who point­ed out to him that his inter­pre­ta­tion of a cer­tain Qur’an­ic verse was absolute­ly wrong. The Caliph lis­tened to her argu­ment and decid­ed the case accord­ing to her views.

The Caliph may indi­cate his suc­ces­sor who may be his son ; but the nom­i­na­tion is invalid until con­firmed by the peo­ple. Out of the four­teen Caliphs of the House of Umayya only four suc­ceed­ed in secur­ing their sons as successors.

The Caliph can­not secure the elec­tion of his suc­ces­sor dur­ing his own life­time. Ibn Athir tells us that Abdul Malik, the Umayya Caliph, endeav­ored to do so but Ibn Musayy­ib, the great Mekkan lawyer, strong­ly protest­ed against the Caliph’s behav­ior. The Abbasi Caliph Hadi, how­ev­er, suc­ceed­ed in secur­ing the elec­tion of his son Jafar but after his death the major­i­ty declared for Harun. In such a case when peo­ple declare for anoth­er Caliph, the one pre­vi­ous­ly elect­ed must, on penal­ty of death, imme­di­ate­ly renounce his right in public.

If the Caliph does not rule accord­ing to the law of Islam, or suf­fers from phys­i­cal or men­tal infir­mi­ty, the Caliphate is for­feit­ed. Usu­al­ly one influ­en­tial Muham­madan stands up in the mosque after the prayer and speaks to the con­gre­ga­tion giv­ing rea­sons for the pro­posed depo­si­tion. He declares depo­si­tion to be in the inter­est of Islam and ends his speech by throw­ing away his fin­ger-ring with the remark : I reject the Caliph as I throw away this ring.” The peo­ple then sig­ni­fy their assent in var­i­ous ways and the depo­si­tion is complete.

The ques­tion whether two or more rival Caliphates can exist simul­ta­ne­ous­ly is dis­cussed by Mus­lim lawyers. Ibn Jama holds that only one Caliphate is pos­si­ble. Ibn Khal­dun holds that there is noth­ing ille­gal in the co-exis­tence of two or more Caliphates, pro­vid­ed they are in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Ibn Khal­dun’s view is cer­tain­ly con­trary to the old Ara­bi­an idea, yet in so far as the Mus­lim Com­mon­wealth is gov­erned by an imper­son­al author­i­ty, i.e., law, his posi­tion seems to me to be quite a ten­able one. More­over, as a mat­ter of fact, two rival Caliphates have exist­ed in Islam for a long time and still exist.

Just as a can­di­date for the Caliphate must have cer­tain qual­i­fi­ca­tions, so, accord­ing to al-Mawardy, the elec­tor also must be qual­i­fied. He must possess :

(1) Good rep­u­ta­tion as an hon­est man,

(2) Nec­es­sary knowl­edge of State affairs,

(3) Nec­es­sary insight and judgment.

In the­o­ry all Mus­lims, men and women, pos­sess the right of elec­tion. There is no prop­er­ty qual­i­fi­ca­tion. In prac­tice, how­ev­er, women and slaves did not exer­cise this right. Some of the ear­ly lawyers seem to have rec­og­nized the dan­ger of mass-elec­tions as they endeav­or to show that the right of elec­tion resides only in the tribe of the Prophet. Whether the seclu­sion of women grew up in order to make women inca­pable of exer­cis­ing a right which in the­o­ry could not be denied to them, I can­not say.

The elec­tor has the right to demand the depo­si­tion of the Caliph or the dis­missal of his offi­cials if he can show that there con­duct is not in accor­dance with the law of Islam. He can, on the sub­ject, address the Mus­lim con­gre­ga­tion in the mosque after the prayer. The mosque, it must be remem­bered, is the Mus­lim Forum, and the insti­tu­tion of dai­ly prayer is close­ly con­nect­ed with the polit­i­cal life of Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties. Apart from its spir­i­tu­al and social func­tions, the insti­tu­tion is meant to serve as a ready means of con­stant crit­i­cism of the State. If, how­ev­er, the elec­tor does not intend to address the con­gre­ga­tion, he can issue a judi­cial inquiry con­cern­ing the con­duct of any State offi­cial, or any oth­er mat­ter which affects the com­mu­ni­ty as a whole. The judi­cial inquiry as a rule does not men­tion the name of any indi­vid­ual. I quote an illus­tra­tion in order to give an idea of this procedure :

In the name of God, most mer­ci­ful and clement. What is the opin­ion of the doc­tors of law, the guides of the peo­ple, on the encour­age­ment of Zim­mis, and on the assis­tance we can demand from them, whether as clerks to the Amirs entrust­ed with the admin­is­tra­tion of the coun­try, or as col­lec­tors of tax­es ? Explain the above by sol­id proofs, estab­lish the ortho­dox belief by sound argu­ments, and give your rea­sons. God will reward you.” 

Such judi­cial inquiries are issued by the State as well, and when the lawyers give con­flict­ing deci­sions, the major­i­ty prevails.

Forced elec­tion is quite ille­gal. Ibn Jama ? an Egypt­ian lawyer ? how­ev­er, holds that forced elec­tion is legal in times of polit­i­cal unrest. This oppor­tunist view has no sup­port in the law of Islam ; though undoubt­ed­ly it is based on his­tor­i­cal facts.

Tar­tushi ? a Span­ish lawyer ? would prob­a­bly hold the same view, for he says : Forty years of tyran­ny are bet­ter than one hour of anarchy.”

Let us now con­sid­er the rela­tion between the elect­ed and the elec­tor. Al-Mawardy defines this rela­tion as Aqd” ? bind­ing togeth­er,” con­tract.” The State, there­fore, is a con­trac­tu­al organ­ism and implies rights and duties. He does not mean, like Rousseau, to explain the ori­gin of soci­ety by an orig­i­nal social con­tract ; he holds that the actu­al fact of elec­tion is con­tract in con­se­quence of which the Caliph has to do cer­tain duties, e.g., to define the reli­gion, to enforce the law of Islam, to levy cus­toms and tax­es accord­ing to the law of Islam, to pay annu­al salaries and prop­er­ly to direct the State trea­sury.. If he ful­fils these con­di­tions, the peo­ple have main­ly two duties in rela­tion to him, viz., to obey him and to assist him in his work.

Apart from this con­tract, how­ev­er, Mus­lim lawyers have also enu­mer­at­ed cer­tain cas­es in which obe­di­ence to the Caliph is not necessary.

The ori­gin of the State then, accord­ing to Al-Mawardy, is NOT force but free con­sent of indi­vid­u­als who unite to form a broth­er­hood, based upon legal equal­i­ty, in order that each mem­ber of the broth­er­hood may work out the poten­tial­i­ties of his indi­vid­u­al­i­ty under the law of Islam. Gov­ern­ment with him is an arti­fi­cial arrange­ment, and is divine only in the sense that the law of Islam ? believed to have been revealed ? demands peace and security.

The Caliph, after his elec­tion, appoints the prin­ci­pal offi­cials of the State, or con­firms those pre­vi­ous­ly in office. The fol­low­ing are the prin­ci­pal State offi­cials with their duties defined by the law :

(1) THE VIZIER ; The Prime Min­is­ter ? either with lim­it­ed or unlim­it­ed pow­ers. The Vizier with unlim­it­ed pow­ers must pos­sess the same qual­i­fi­ca­tions as the Caliph, except that, accord­ing to al-Mawardy, he need not nec­es­sar­i­ly belong to the Quraish tribe. He must be thor­ough­ly edu­cat­ed, espe­cial­ly in Math­e­mat­ics, His­to­ry and the Art of Speak­ing. He can per­form all the func­tions of the Caliph, except that he can­not nom­i­nate the Caliph’s suc­ces­sor. He can, with­out pre­vi­ous sanc­tion of the Caliph, appoint offi­cers to the var­i­ous depart­ments of the State. The Vizier with lim­it­ed pow­ers can­not do so. The dis­missal of the Vizier with unlim­it­ed pow­ers means the dis­missal of all offi­cials appoint­ed by him ; while the dis­missal of the Vizier pow­ers does not lead to dis­missal of the offi­cials appoint­ed by him.

More than one Vizier with unlim­it­ed pow­ers can­not be appoint­ed. The Gov­er­nors of var­i­ous provinces can appoint their own Viziers. A non-Mus­lim may be appoint­ed Vizier with lim­it­ed pow­ers. The Shia dynasty of the Obaidias appoint­ed a Jew to this posi­tion. An Egypt­ian poet express­es their sen­ti­ments as follows :

The Jews of our times have reached the goal of their ambi­tion. Theirs is all hon­or, theirs is all gold. O peo­ple of Egypt, I advise you to become Jews : God him­self has become a Jew ! 

(2) GOVERNORS ; Next to the Vizier the most impor­tant exec­u­tive offi­cers of the State were Gov­er­nors of var­i­ous provinces. They were appoint­ed by the Caliph with lim­it­ed or unlim­it­ed pow­ers. The Gov­er­nor with unlim­it­ed pow­ers could appoint sub-gov­er­nors to adjoin­ing small­er provinces. For instance, the sub-gov­er­nor of Sici­ly was appoint­ed by the Gov­er­nor of Spain and that of Sind by the Gov­er­nor of Basra.

This was real­ly an attempt to cre­ate self-gov­ern­ing Mus­lim colonies. The offi­cer in charge was, so to speak, a minia­ture caliph of his province ; he appoint­ed his own Vizier, Chief Judge and oth­er State Offi­cers. Where spe­cial com­man­der of the provin­cial army was not appoint­ed, the Gov­er­nor, ex offi­cio, act­ed as the commander.

This, how­ev­er, was an error, since the Gov­er­nors became grad­u­al­ly pow­er­ful and fre­quent­ly assert­ed their inde­pen­dence. But in his capac­i­ty of the com­man­der the gov­er­nor had no right to raise the salaries of his sol­diers except in very spe­cial cir­cum­stances. It was his duty to send all the mon­ey to the cen­tral trea­sury after defray­ing the nec­es­sary State expens­es. If the provin­cial income fell short of the expens­es, he could claim a con­tri­bu­tion from the cen­tral trea­sury. If he is appoint­ed by the Caliph, the death of the lat­ter is not fol­lowed by his dis­missal ; but if he is appoint­ed by the Vizier, the death of the Vizier means the dis­missal of all gov­er­nors appoint­ed by him, pro­vid­ed they are not new­ly con­firmed in their respec­tive posts.

The gov­er­nor with lim­it­ed pow­ers was a pure­ly exec­u­tive offi­cer. He had noth­ing to do with judi­cial mat­ters and in crim­i­nal mat­ter too his author­i­ty was very much limited.

Mus­lim lawyers, how­ev­er, rec­og­nize a third kind of gov­er­nor­ship, i.e., by usurpa­tion. But the usurp­er must ful­fill cer­tain con­di­tions before his claim is legal­ly justified.

(3) COMMANDERS OF ARMIES : Here too the dis­tinc­tion of lim­it­ed and unlim­it­ed pow­ers is made, and the duties of com­man­ders, sub­or­di­nate offi­cers and sol­diers are clear­ly defined.

(4) THE CHIEF JUDGE : The Chief Judge could be appoint­ed by the Caliph or the Vizier. Accord­ing to Abu Han­i­fa, in some cas­es, and accord­ing to Abu Jafar Tabary, a non-Mus­lim can be appoint­ed to admin­is­ter the law of his co-religionists.

The Chief Judge, as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the law of Islam, CAN DEPOSE THE CALIPH ? he can kill his own cre­ator.’ His death means the dis­missal of his staff ; but the death of the sov­er­eign is not fol­lowed by the dis­missal of the judges appoint­ed by him.

Dur­ing an inter­reg­num a judge can be elect­ed by the peo­ple of a town, but not dur­ing the sov­er­eign’s lifetime.

(5) PRESIDENT OF THE HIGHEST COURT OF APPEAL & GENERAL CONTROL : The object of this insti­tu­tion was to hear appeals and to exer­cise a gen­er­al super­vi­sion over all the depart­ments of the State. Abdul Malik ? the Umayya Caliph and the founder of this court ? per­son­al­ly act­ed as the pres­i­dent, though more dif­fi­cult cas­es he trans­ferred to Qazi Abu Idris. In lat­er times the pres­i­dent was appoint­ed by the Caliph. Dur­ing the reign of the Abbasi Caliph al-Muq­tadar, his moth­er was appoint­ed pres­i­dent, and she used to hear appeals on Fri­days, sur­round­ed by judges, priests and oth­er notables.

In one respect the Pres­i­dent of this Court dif­fered from the Chief Judge : He was not bound by the let­ter of the law like the Qazi ; his deci­sions were based on gen­er­al prin­ci­ples of nat­ur­al jus­tice, so that the Pres­i­dent was some­thing like the keep­er of the Caliph’s conscience.

He was assist­ed by a coun­cil of judges and lawyers whose duty was to dis­cuss every aspect of the case before the Pres­i­dent announced his decision.

The impor­tance of this insti­tu­tion may be judged from the fact that it was among the few Mus­lim insti­tu­tions which the Nor­mans retained after their con­quest of Sici­ly in the eleventh century.

The Shia View of The Caliphate 

Accord­ing to the Shia view the State is of divine ori­gin and the Caliph ? or, as they call, Imam ? gov­erns by divine right.

The view arose among an obscure Ara­bi­an sect known as Saba’ites, whose founder, Abdul­lah ibn Saba, was a Jew of Sana in Yemen. In the time of Uth­man he became a con­vert to Islam, and final­ly set­tled in Egypt where he preached his doctrine.

This doc­trine har­mo­nized with the pre-Islam­ic habits of polit­i­cal thought in Per­sia, and soon found a per­ma­nent home in that coun­try. The Imam, accord­ing to the Per­sians, is not elect­ed but appoint­ed by God (the Shias of Oman, how­ev­er, adopt­ed the elec­tive prin­ci­ple and held that the Imam might be deposed). He is the incar­na­tion of uni­ver­sal rea­son, he is endowed with all per­fec­tions, his wis­dom is super­hu­man and his deci­sions are absolute and final.

The first Imam, Ali, was appoint­ed by Muham­mad ; Ali’s direct descen­dants are his divine­ly ordained suc­ces­sors. The world is nev­er with­out a liv­ing Imam whether vis­i­ble or invis­i­ble. The twelfth Imam, accord­ing to the Shias, sud­den­ly dis­ap­peared near Kufa, but he will come again and fill the world with peace and pros­per­i­ty. In the mean­time he com­mu­ni­cates his will from time to time through cer­tain favored indi­vid­u­als called Gates ? who hold mys­te­ri­ous inter­course with him.

Now this doc­trine of the absence of the Imam has a very impor­tant polit­i­cal aspect which few stu­dents of Islam have ful­ly appre­ci­at­ed : Whether the Imam real­ly dis­ap­peared or not, I do not know ; but it is obvi­ous that the dog­ma is a clever way of sep­a­rat­ing the Church and the State.

The absent Imam, as I have point­ed out above, is absolute author­i­ty in all mat­ters ; the present exec­u­tive author­i­ties are, there­fore, only guardians the estate which real­ly belongs to the Imam who, as such, inher­its the prop­er­ty of deceased intes­tates in case they leave no heirs.

It will, there­fore, be seen that the author­i­ty of the Shah of Per­sia is lim­it­ed by the author­i­ty of the Mul­lahs ? the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the absent Imam. As a mere guardian of the estate he is sub­ject to the reli­gious author­i­ty of the Mul­lah, though as the chief exec­u­tive author­i­ty he is free to adopt any mea­sure for the good of the estate.

It is not, there­fore, sur­pris­ing that the Mul­lahs took no active part in the recent con­sti­tu­tion­al reforms in Persia.

The Khawar­ij — Repub­li­can­ism And The Prob­lem of The Caliphate 

I shall be very brief in my account of the Khawar­ij, since the his­to­ry of their opin­ions is yet to be worked out.[7]

The first Mus­lims who were so-called were the noto­ri­ous 12,000 who revolt­ed against Ali after they had fought under him at the bat­tle of Sif­fin. They were offend­ed at his sub­mit­ting the deci­sion of the Right to the Caliphate to the arbi­tra­tion of men when, in their opin­ion, it ought to have been sub­mit­ted to the law of God ? the Qur’an. The nation,” they said to Ali, calls us to the Book of God ; you call us to the sword.”

Shahris­tani divides ten into twen­ty four sects, dif­fer­ing slight­ly from one anoth­er in legal and con­sti­tu­tion­al opin­ions, e.g., that the igno­rance of law is a valid excuse ; that the adul­ter­er should not be stoned, for the Qur’an nowhere men­tions this pun­ish­ment ; that the hid­ing of one’s reli­gious opin­ions is ille­gal ; that the Caliph should not be called the Com­man­der of the Faith­ful ; that there is noth­ing ille­gal in hav­ing two or more caliphs in one and the same time. In East Africa and Maz­ab ? South Alge­ria ? they still main­tain the sim­plic­i­ty of their repub­li­can ideals.

Broad­ly speak­ing, the Khawar­ij can be divid­ed into three classes :

(1) Those who hold that there must be an elect­ed caliph, but it is not nec­es­sary that he should belong to a par­tic­u­lar fam­i­ly or tribe. A woman or even a slave could be elect­ed as Caliph pro­vid­ed he or she is a good Mus­lim ruler. When­ev­er they found them­selves in pow­er, they pur­pose­ly elect­ed their caliph from among the social­ly low­est mem­bers of their community.

(2) Those who hold that there is no need of a Caliph ? the Mus­lim con­gre­ga­tion can gov­ern themselves.

(3) Those who do not believe in Gov­ern­ment at all ? the anar­chists of Islam. To them the Caliph Ali is report­ed to have said : You do not believe in my Gov­ern­ment, but there must be SOME gov­ern­ment ? good or bad.”

Con­clud­ing Remarks

Such are, briefly, the main lines of Polit­i­cal Thought in Islam. It is clear that the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple laid down in the Qur’an is the prin­ci­ple of ELECTION ; the details or rather the trans­la­tion of this prin­ci­ple into a work­able scheme of Gov­ern­ment is left to be deter­mined by oth­er considerations.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, how­ev­er, the idea of elec­tion did not devel­op on strict­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic lines, and the Mus­lim con­querors con­se­quent­ly failed to do any­thing for the polit­i­cal improve­ment of Asia. The for of elec­tion was cer­tain­ly main­tained in Bagh­dad and Spain, but no reg­u­lar polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions could grow to visu­al­ize the peo­ple at large.

It seems to me that there were prin­ci­pal­ly two rea­sons for this want of polit­i­cal activ­i­ty in Mus­lim countries :

(1) In the first place the idea of elec­tion was not at all suit­ed to the genius of the Per­sians and the Mon­gols ? the two prin­ci­pal races that accept­ed Islam as their reli­gion. Dozy tells us that the Per­sians were even deter­mined to wor­ship the Caliph as a divin­i­ty, and on being told that wor­ship belonged to God alone, they attempt­ed to REBEL against the Caliph who would not be the cen­ter of reli­gious emotion.

(2) The life of ear­ly Mus­lims was a life of con­quest. Their whole ener­gy was devot­ed to polit­i­cal expan­sion which tends to con­cen­trate polit­i­cal pow­er in few­er hands ; and thus serves as an uncon­scious hand­maid of despo­tism. Democ­ra­cy does not seem to be quite will­ing to get on with Empire ? a les­son which the mod­ern Eng­lish Impe­ri­al­ist might well take to heart.

In mod­ern times ? thanks to the influ­ence of West­ern polit­i­cal ideas ? Mus­lim coun­tries have exhib­it­ed signs of polit­i­cal life. Eng­land has vital­ized Egypt ; Per­sia has received a con­sti­tu­tion from the Shah, and the Young Turk­ish Par­ty too have been strug­gling, schem­ing and plot­ting to achieve their object.

But it is absolute­ly nec­es­sary for these polit­i­cal reform­ers to make a thor­ough study of Islam­ic con­sti­tu­tion­al prin­ci­ples, and NOT TO SHOCK THAT NATURAL SUSPICIOUS CONSERVATISM OF THEIR PEOPLE by appear­ing as prophets of a new culture.

They would cer­tain­ly impress them more if they could show that their seem­ing­ly bor­rowed ide­al of polit­i­cal free­dom is real­ly the ide­al of Islam, and is, as such, the right­ful demand of free Mus­lim conscience.

Notes & References

[1] (Sheikh) Muham­mad Iqbal a.k.a. Alla­ma (lit. Schol­ar”) Muham­mad Iqbal (18761938), was the most out­stand­ing and exas­per­at­ing fig­ure in the 20th cen­tu­ry Islam in the sub-con­ti­nent. He authored numer­ous high­ly inspi­ra­tional poet­i­cal works in Urdu and Far­si (Per­sian), many of which have been ren­dered into Eng­lish by A. J. Arber­ry and Annemarie Schim­mel. His two philo­soph­i­cal works are : Recon­struc­tion of Reli­gious Thought in Islam and Devel­op­ment of Meta­physics in Per­sia, both of which are also avail­able online. One of his poems became the Nation­al Anthem of India while Pak­istan hon­ored him by select­ing him as its Nation­al Poet. His Far­si writ­ings are read with great inter­est in Iran. Iqbal is there­fore right­ly called as Poet of the East”.

[2] Orig­i­nal­ly appeared in The Hin­dus­tan Review”, Alla­habad (India), Decem­ber 1910, pp. 527 – 33 and Jan­u­ary 1911, pp. 22 – 26. This elec­tron­ic ver­sion made from the same arti­cle reprint­ed sep­a­rate­ly as Polit­i­cal Thought in Islam, Lahore : Bazm-i-Iqbal (lit. The Iqbal Soci­ety”), 1989.

[3] Here and in sub­se­quent ref­er­ences to schol­ar­ly works, Iqbal does not give the details ? and some­times (as in this instance) not even the names ? of the ref­er­ence works in ques­tion, which caus­es great dif­fi­cul­ty to those who want to pur­sue his cita­tions at length in their orig­i­nal sources. Owing to obvi­ous time-short­age, it’s not pos­si­ble for me to pro­vide the details of such back-up doc­u­men­ta­tion here.

[4] Philip­pi­ans 2:2

[5] This appella­tive has become obso­lete. The cor­rect term is Mus­lim”.

[6] al-Qur’an, 42:38

[7] Since the time Iqbal wrote this arti­cle (i.e., 1910), a good deal of research has been done on the prob­lem of the Islam­ic sects in gen­er­al as well as on Khawar­ij (Khar­i­jites). See, for instance : W. M. Watt, Khar­i­jite Thought in the Umayyad Peri­od in Der Islam, vol., xxxvi (1961), pp. 215?31 ; Elie Adib Salem, Polit­i­cal The­o­ry and Insti­tu­tions of the Khawar­ij, Bal­ti­more, 1956, etc.Endmark







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